Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The price of reservation

by Prof P. V. Indiresan Monday, May 15, 2006 in The Hindu Business Line

Usually, media memory is short. Most stories are forgotten at the end of the day; few last a week. Unusually, interest in the reservation controversy has not died down even after two months. Evidently, this controversy touches a raw nerve; people cannot get over their hurt easily.

Considering the degree of interest in the topic, there is surprisingly few hard facts known about the issue. IITs have had reservation for students belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Tribes for over 30 years. There is no public information of how the beneficiaries have fared, or how well they have performed in the profession compared to regular students, or compared to SC/ST students from other less prestigious colleges.

Tamil Nadu experience

Tamil Nadu has the longest experience with reservation. With almost 80 per cent admissions and posts reserved, it has the most extensive application of that device. The Tamil Nadu experience can be described both as a success and as a failure. It is a success because backward castes have wrested the leadership — both in the academic and administrative spheres — apart from acquiring total command of the political space. Not only have the backward castes taken command, they have also made Tamil Nadu one of the most successful States.

Reservation in Tamil Nadu can also be declared as a failure on two counts: Even after three-quarters of a century, the backward castes are unwilling to compete openly. There are third, even fourth generation beneficiaries of reservation who are unable to get over their dependence on the handicaps reservation provides for them. It appears, reservation is a crutch, not a remedy.

The success of backward castes in Tamil Nadu appears to be partly due to emigration of upper castes: There are few Brahmins, Mudaliars, Naidus, Pillais or Chettiars to contend with; quite a few have migrated out of the State. There is no analysis how far the loss of so much human capital has hurt (or helped) the State.

Yet, it would be incorrect to conclude that backward castes can never stand up to competition. Once again, we have no hard data to rely on. However, anecdotal evidence points to the view that competent persons among the backward castes never flaunt their caste badge; they want to be known and respected for what they achieve — they stand tall. On the other hand, weaker but ambitious persons make their caste a fetish. They make noise louder and frequently; they get noticed more often.

Consider the visibility of capable students in the job market. They know what they want. They get selected promptly and vanish from the scene after no more than one or two job interviews. The least competitive ones are unsure of where they can succeed. They try again and again only to be rejected. They are noticeable everywhere. Particularly when they wear the caste badge, they will be shortlisted even when not well qualified.

Fooled by noise

With competent students appearing but few times, the less competent ones appearing frequently, the latter appear to be far larger in numbers than they actually are. Logically, the proportion of competent backward castes must be several times higher than what they appear to be in selection committees. That is like the case of a farmer who ruefully remarked after promising to supply a thousand frogs "the noise sure fooled me!"

There is yet another reason why backward students under-perform. As a natural corollary of the Reservation Principle, teaching posts have been reserved on caste basis. That is a cardinal error. What poor students need most are the best teachers available, not the least qualified. Dr Sowell, a distinguished professor from Stanford, was once asked on his visit to Madras (as it was then) whether he would prefer Black teachers to teach Black students (Prof Sowell is Black.) His answer was, "I do not care whether the teacher is White, Black or Blue; I want the best!"

Quality teaching, the key

Unfortunately, this basic principle has been discarded by our policymakers, who have grossly under-estimated the importance of teaching quality. In the process, they have run down state-run schools. In the past fifty years, the population of Chennai has increased almost ten times. Yet, many schools run by the City Corporation have been closed for "want of students". In truth, it cannot be that the students, but the quality of teachers selected that was found wanting.

It is a recorded fact that discipline among school teachers has come down. Across the country, half the time teachers are not attending to class work at all. It is a fact that most students in Delhi's Corporation schools cannot do simple arithmetic — multiply two-digit numbers — even after five years of education. Yet, as one NIIT experiment has shown, given a chance, they can pick up computer skills on their own.

In the prevailing ethos of reservation, a person can get the benefits of reservation without making any payment in return. That contravenes a natural law that is colloquially described as "there is no free lunch". In engineering, such systems are known as "perpetual-motion" machines, machines that run forever without any input. For every transaction, there has to be entries on both sides of the ledger. A price has to be paid for the gains made by reservation. There is no escape from that law. Then, what is the price the beneficiaries of reservation pay for the benefit they get? One price they have paid is lowered quality of education in state-run schools, inferior opportunities to learn; in consequence, endemic poverty too. Is that price worth paying?

As one correspondent has pointed out, reservation is like declaring a boundary scored in a cricket game as a six if hit by a backward caste player. Such artificial boost appears beneficial. It may not be. As one SC student remarked: "I won a degree in the IIT but lost my self-image." How many students would have done better with their lives if they had been exposed to what they can master, instead of being subjected to a difficult drill for which they were not trained, we do not know.

How far has the Reservation Policy has helped the poor, has reduced the rich-poor gap? The average family income of SC students in IIM Ahmedabad is twice that of the others. Is that an exception, or is it true of other institutions too? That is the problem: We have no data on which to base reasoned decisions. Our political masters are unwilling to generate much needed information on this issue, nor or they willing to consider any alternative. At the same time, they have acquired the power to declare as constitutionally illegal any institution that operates on a caste-free basis.

Friend or foe?

Is everyone who promotes reservation a friend of the backward castes? Is everyone who questions reservation at university level an enemy of backward castes?

Who hurts backward castes more: Those who deny good school education or those who want well-run schools?

A proposal to identify and give special education to talented backward caste students has been before the government for over 25 years, and still finds no support. Strange are the ways of our democracy, of government of some people, by some people for themselves.


arasuu said...

Yes Mr.Abhishek,i agree with you to a large extend.we can take Tamilnadu as a model state for reservation.i dont think reservation in anyway has hampered the development of that state.in all developmental indicators,the state comes within the best three in India,as far as i know.actually this proves wrong the people who argue that reservation is dangerous and it will bring down quality and the country will go down the spiral.this is just the result of approaching the issue emotionally and with a myopic vision.this is just upper casteist ranting.
What i want to make clear is the benefits brought by reservation to the people of TN.AS i am from TN,i know very well how the quality of life is improved for the BC and SC/ST people who got benefitted by reservation.but for reservation,they cant think of higher education and their prosperity.not only that,it has brought a change in the social equation.
No country can think of attaining the higher echelons of power in the world with more than half of their population under poverty and without dignity which was mainly due to social practices.
So to overcome this,the best way possible in India is reservation.what reservation policy exists today may not be perfect.but so far no feasible and possible alternative found.people talk of reservation based on in income-how many people in India give their original income.reservation based on income if perfectly done,that may be an ideal model.but to implement that, honest and straight forward people and officials you need which has sadly become rare in India.
So in the present day scenario,i think reservation based on caste is the only way forward to uplift the poor people in India and hence development of India as a nation.
People talk of time limit for reservation.i dont think it will be possible.why i say this is few thousands or few lakhs or even few crores reservations is not going to improve the nation of billions.instead we have to find out ways of excluding the families who repeatedly benefit through the system.

Abhishek said...

hmm.. Lets take on your points one by one.

but First things first, This are words of Prof P. V. Indiresan, former Director IIT Madras, which I am endorsing through my blog. All credits to him.

Now lets analyze your points:

1. i know very well how the quality of life is improved for the BC and SC/ST people who got benefitted by reservation.

Since you admit that life of people has benefited and they are now at par in social and economic terms, then it also means that they are in a much better position than really "backward" people to utilize the benefits of reservation. This means that the people who have already benefited are potential 'cannibalizer' of reservation benefits to those who really deserve it. Hence the solution to the problem is to filter out people who have already used it. The dumb son of a hard worker who used reservation to become IAS would be abusing the reservation by getting a seat in IIT. Hence solution is not expanding the reservation net but making sure that it does not get abused.

2. how many people in India give their original income.
A recent CNN-IBN investigation shows that one can get a fake "backward class" certificate in 1000 Rs. And given your assumption that a "general category" student has more means to study and hence also to get a fake certificate will again prevent a real "backward" person from coming up. What’s the solution: well straightforward. Any reservation on cost of somebody else will have such repercussions. So again expanding bracket won't help but will worsen the situation. What we need to do is to create ample opportunities for everyone to get what he/she wants. Prof Indiresan's caution is handy in those terms. We can't move up "dumb people" with "dump teachers" .

3. honest and straight forward people and officials you need which has sadly become rare in India.
What makes India such a corrupt country? All things are related. A person can't get admission in institutes of higher learning so he has to pay higher fees for coming at par with best. Then he don't get a job because they don't require a degree certificate but a cast certificate which he "cannot" get in his lifetime. So what he does now ? He bribes someone to get a job. Now how does he recover his "investment" ? The cycle continues and worsens the situation. How do u break it? Two ways, carrot and stick, carrot by increasing the salaries and stick by enforcing stricter laws. Now how do we do that? Again, we need to raise India from developing to developed. We have to win the global economic competition. How can we do that? By making our people smart. And now how will our people become smart? simple by exposing them to domestic competition. How do we take care of people who cannot compete? Well help them to become competitive but once they become competent leave them on there own. Its a race and a person who can run only can win. A person who can't run but is artificially put forward everytime will not survive long. And as my signature line says

"Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up and knows that it will have to outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. And, every morning in Africa a lion wakes up and knows that it will have to outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. So, in Africa, it doesn't matter if you are the lion or the gazelle. When that sun comes up, you had better be running."

Anonymous said...

Reservation: Who is responsible for Caste Factor?

Reservation: Who is responsible for Caste Factor in India ?

Two thosands years ago there was mass conversion of religion from Hindu to Budhism by Dalit and so called OBC in the name of social justice.

But what happened ? They creat a Dalit and OBC caste within Budhism religion. The same was repeated by the some Dalit leader just 60 years ago also with same output.
During the Mughal Era, there was mass conversion of religion from Hindu to Islam by Dalit and so called OBC in the name of social justice.

But what happened ? They creat a caste system within Islam religion i.e OBC. The Islam is a religion for equal right and without caste system but Dalit and OBC create a caste system.
During the British Era, there was mass conversion of religion from Hindu to Christinity by Dalit and so called OBC in the name of social justice.

But what happened ? They creat a caste system within Christinity religion i.e OBC. The Christinity is a religion for equal right and without caste system but Dalit and OBC create a caste system.
The above is also applicable to "Sikh" religion too.

Who are responsible for caste system?

Is this happen just because they are using the tectics of Beggars or they need psyhco treatment for caste complex.

Due to so called OBC and Dalit the every religion of world is infected by the caste system.

My personal view is that it was happen just because they do not have self-respect for themselve or caste. They are enjoying like beggers. They are enjoying this status of liabialities toward country.

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Reservation: If higher caste have 15 % of population and are in minority then why not give us 15% land near Goa to establish a new country "Gyan" Desh for higher caste. Certainly we will make this Swezerland, Singapore or like Hongkong.
by: logic4u on May 16 2006 1:32AM in Current Affairs

Dear Medico,

Thanks for expressing our pain and second status of citizenship in India.

The higher caste facing the second status of citizenship from the thousands of Years. Where the Brahmin Sudama was poor Chap and Yadava vanshi Lord Krishna was King. Then Gupta Vansha, Maurya Vansha then Mughal, Britisher and Now Reservation Party. All were the from OBC.

If higher caste have 15 % of population and are in minority then why not give us 15% land near Goa to establish a new country "Gyan" Desh for higher caste. Certainly we will make this Swezerland, Singapore or like Hongkong.

arasu said...

Well Mr.Abhishek,
i appreciate your response.i acknowledge that those were Prof.Indiresan's words.As you have put that article in your blog,i dont thing you will disagree,because u didnt comment about that article.
Now regarding your comments,the first point, i do accept that those who benefitted through reservation has to be excluded from that list.in fact i have mentioned in my earlier comment that the reservation policy existing today is not perfect thinking of this aspect only.
So based on this,rejecting reservation policy will be superficial.
Second,geting a community certificate thru bribing.yes,it is possible in our land.but people doing it is miniscule.because our casteist sentiment is in our blood.dont think it is not happening because we are honest people,we dont want to lie.but the same honesty will not show its head while filing our income tax returns.so its not honesty,just our inner casteist mentality which prevents us to get a false community certificate.
Third corruption runs deep in the system.what you have commented is partially true.its root much deeper.Indian corrupted mentality is sustained thru politicians.yes people in India worship their politicians.politicians are corrupt.so when your God is corrupt,it becomes acceptable for you to be corrupt.this is just one of the psychological factors which sustains corruption.Like this there are lot of reasons.
Now i come to the main point:pro-reservation and anti-reservation.what anti-reservation people claim,reservation lowers the quality and standard so that the country will lag behind in the world.but this is disproved by Tamilnadu which has reservation policy for quite a long time now.but this state comes among the best in the country.at the same time the social status of the deprived is improved.but there are lots of states in India which dont have extensive reservation policy as Tamilnadu has,are lagging behind.do you know the difference in marks between general category,BC and SC/ST students in TN to get into the medical college-hardly 1-2%.So given opportunities they equally perform well.
Reservation is the price we have to pay today to correct the wrong done by the Hindu social practice of caste system.yes,i agree it hurts the younger generation of higher castes for the mistake of their not own.
So instead opposing the reservation policy based on this arguement of quality and standard,the upper caste people who differentiates the castes has to come in open and accept the fact and claim that it hurts their children thats y oppose.
If u have time,you can read an article written by NDTV's Barka Dutta regarding this.it shows the mentality of the people who oppose reservation in the TV studios.

Kapil said...

I am worried that further reservation may create a divide and fuel hatred towards those who come through the quota system .Imagine the plight of the brilliant medical student who will have to slog and compete with the very best ,while someone mediocre relying on quota would have to just survive med school and only 'appear' in the entrance !
Emancipation should not be at the cost of the aspirations of the 'upper castes' ! Their should be a total ban on caste based reservations in PG education.